Shannon Murdock and Dr. Roger Baker, English and Richard Draper, Ancient Scripture
Various LDS scholars have taken pains to point out the paucity of LDS scholarship on the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible. Priceless as it is, the JST’s literary contribution to the Old Testament remains largely unexplored. Even LDS readers are uninformed with regards to significant literary contributions made by the Prophet Joseph’s inspired corrections. My ORCA project is an effort to defray this problem by investigating a Pentateuchal poetic pattern in which JST passages from the book of Moses play a significant role. I consider the results of my research a partial answer to Robert Matthews’ prediction:
It might be expected that a work as extensive as [the JST] would probably be attested to by documentary evidence in the due time of the Lord. The Lord always defends and supports his prophets, first by the testimony of the spirit to the hearts of the Saints and eventually by hard facts to the convincing of the world. As one writer a century ago observed, “Surely facts are stubborn things. It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence.”2
Chiastic inclusio in the Old Testament might well be a source of “circumstantial evidence” for the veracity of the JST. Inclusio, also called ring composition, “is a repetition of the same words at the beginning and end of a section of poetry. It is a form of distant parallelism, a description more applicable when the repetition is not verbatim.”3 Inclusio is deemed chiastic when the ideas and words from the beginning of a passage are repeated inversely to their order of instantiation. To identify inclusio, “one must search for a progression of thought and theme, a significant development of normative motifs, or a definite programmatic use of certain governing ideas.”4 Such progression of thought, motifs, and governing ideas is evident in the opening and closing chapters of the Pentateuch. Using inclusio, Moses situated key principles of the Plan of Salvation at the points of greatest chiastic emphasis: the introduction and conclusion of his work.
Like a stone arch, the Pentateuch’s chiastic inclusio details the positioning of each textual block that contributes to the poetic structure. Specifically—and significantly to LDS audiences—the poem indicates that textual blocks are missing from Genesis (the first leg of the inclusio). Truths have obviously been lost or taken from the Pentateuch (see Moses 1:40). My analysis shows that Moses 1 is a remarkable match for lost material in the chiastic inclusio. Restored truths in Moses 2-5 are also in keeping with the poetic rhythm of the inclusio. The Pentateuch is in literary ruins without the textual additions and corrections of the JST.
The Pentatuech’s chiastic inclusio invites the reader to study old doctrines in a new way by juxtaposing the chiastic pairs of Moses 1 and Deuteronomy 34, Moses 2 and Deuteronomy 33, and Moses 3–5 and Deuteronomy 32:
A. Moses 1—Principal landmark: “An exceedingly high mountain.” Moses is transfigured and sees a vision.
B. Moses 2—Principal landmark: The firmament of earth in the cosmic void. By ten commands, a perfect earth is organized for man.
C. Moses 3–5—Principal landmark: Mount Eden. The narrative of man’s fall and God’s promise of salvation.
C’. Deuteronomy 32—Principal landmark: The Rock of Creation. The Rule of Life—God’s dealings with fallen man.
B’. Deuteronomy 33—Principal landmark: Mount Paran. By ten blessings, a perfected Israel is allotted its inheritance.
A’. Deuteronomy 34—Principal landmark: Mount Nebo. Moses sees a vision and is translated.
This literary arrangement illustrates the Pentateuch’s design in communicating the Plan of Salvation.5 The first grouping in the poem, including Moses 3 through 5 and Deuteronomy 32, elucidates God’s character and relationship to man. The second grouping, Moses 2 and Deuteronomy 33, enriches the reader’s perception of paradise and encourages him or her to exercise faith unto salvation. And the final couplet, Moses 1 and Deuteronomy 34, conveys the idea of man’s redemption, or reintroduction into God’s presence—symbolic of the return from the Fall that is illustrated in the first couplet.
Without the contributions of the JST, the chiastic inclusio is impotent, and the narrative is left with an uncertain literary frame. But literary evidence (e.g., juxtaposition, imagery, and word choice) strongly indicates that the Pentateuch is framed by key ideas of the Plan of Salvation: the relationship between God and man, the character of the Fall, and the dynamics of establishing a covenant unto Eternal Life.
- My completed honors thesis can be found at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library.
- Matthews, Robert. A Plainer Translation: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1985. 265.
- Watson, Wilfred G. E. “Chiastic Patterns in Biblical Hebrew Poetry,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity. ed. John W. Welch. Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1981. 198–211.
- Habel, Norman C. Literary Criticism of the Old Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.
- The arrangement also suggests not only that the Pentateuch was a creation of a single person but also that the author had purpose in his arrangement of the text. Both of these implications contradict the prevalent Documentary Hypothesis, which many Bible scholars use to explain the origin of the Bible. The Documentary Hypothesis asserts that the Pentateuch was written (or redacted) by multiple authors and compiled centuries after Moses’ time. The presence of chiastic inclusio in the Pentateuch gives contra- Hypothesis scholars another weapon in their arsenal.